Lawyers for AHTC seek to amend statement of claim against Pritam Singh, 4 others

Move, ahead of appeal, is rare as High Court found defendants liable for various breaches

The move is rare as Justice Kannan Ramesh had already given judgment in the case last year. A five-judge Court of Appeal is due to hear appeals by the eight defendants later this month.
The move is rare as Justice Kannan Ramesh had already given judgment in the case last year. A five-judge Court of Appeal is due to hear appeals by the eight defendants later this month.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Lawyers representing Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) are applying to add amendments to the claims against then town councillor Pritam Singh and four others in a case which was decided by the High Court last year.

The move is rare as Justice Kannan Ramesh had already given judgment in the case last year, having found eight defendants liable for various breaches, including former Workers' Party (WP) chief Low Thia Khiang and chairman Sylvia Lim. A five-judge Court of Appeal is due to hear their appeals later this month.

Lawyers point out that under the rules of court, a plaintiff may ask the court for permission to amend the statement of claim at any stage. This can be done even after a lower court has rendered judgment and before an appeal is heard.

Lawyer Peter Doraisamy said the move to amend the statement of claim is rare after judgment has been given, unlike applications to amend before the case is heard or in the course of the trial, which in itself is uncommon. "However, the court has discretion and will consider various factors including any prejudice suffered by the defendant as a result of the amendments."

According to court papers filed by AHTC's lawyers Shook Lin & Bok, the amendments seek to add to the claims against Mr Singh, Mr David Chua Zhi Hon and Mr Kenneth Foo, town councillors during the period under question in the case, and the owners of managing agent company FM Solutions & Services and its sister company FM Solutions and Integrated Services, Ms How Weng Fan and as personal representative of the estate of her late husband Danny Loh.

Initially, many of AHTC's claims against them were premised on the basis that they owed fiduciary duties to AHTC. Now, AHTC is also seeking to claim against Mr Singh, who is WP chief, and the four others in the case for alleged breaches of a duty to exercise due skill and care.

According to court papers, the grounds for the application are contained in the affidavit of Senior Counsel Philip Jeyaretnam, who chaired the independent panel appointed and authorised by AHTC to initiate legal action.

In his judgment grounds last year, Justice Ramesh held that Mr Singh did not breach fiduciary duties to AHTC, but was found to have breached his duty of skill and care.

The amended statement for which court approval is sought says, among others: "AHTC avers that Mr Pritam Singh, Mr Chua Zhi Hon and Mr Kenneth Foo breached their duty of care and skill qua fiduciary and/or duty of care and skill in tort to AHTC." It is understood that the proposed amendments are meant to reflect the findings of the judge.

Mr Singh did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

Singapore Management University Assistant Professor of Law Benjamin Ong said the move to amend the claim could be meant to establish a second ground of liability before the appeal is heard.

 
 
 

"Much of the High Court's judgment appears to have been premised on its finding that Sylvia Lim, Low Thia Khiang, Pritam Singh, David Chua, Kenneth Foo, How Weng Fan, and Danny Loh owed fiduciary duties to AHTC," he said. "Fiduciary duties are strict duties of loyalty. For example, if A owes fiduciary duties to B, A must not make use of his relationship with B to make profits or gain benefits for himself; and A must strictly not let his own interests come into conflict with B's interests. The High Court went on to rule that A, by virtue of being a fiduciary, would also owe a duty to take a certain level of skill and care in his dealings with B."

RECOVERY OF DAMAGES

Under the amendments, AHTC will seek to argue that it is still entitled to recover damages for their alleged breaches of a duty to exercise skill and care.

ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF LAW BENJAMIN ONG, suggesting that the amendment could be meant for AHTC to maximise its chances of success before the Court of Appeal.

The amendment could be meant for AHTC to maximise its chances of success, Prof Ong suggested.

"Under the amendments, AHTC will seek to argue that it is still entitled to recover damages for their alleged breaches of a duty to exercise skill and care. This is because, as a matter of law, it is possible for A to have a duty to exercise skill and care vis-a-vis B (as part of the law of negligence) even if A does not owe fiduciary duties to B," he said.

"We see this in various familiar areas of life: For example, a driver owes a duty to take care not to harm other road users even though the driver does not owe them fiduciary duties.

"That said, depending on the precise facts, the level of skill and care required of a fiduciary might be different from that required of a person who does not owe fiduciary duties."

The hearing on the application is scheduled to be held in chambers before Justice Ramesh today. 

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 03, 2020, with the headline 'Lawyers for AHTC seek to amend statement of claim'. Print Edition | Subscribe